GORDON WU, managing director of Hopewell Holdings, was not his usual effervescent self at a corporate briefing with journalists on Wednesday afternoon. Poring over charts and spouting forth figures, Asia's infrastructure visionary defended his track record in building and completing projects, the level of his company gearing and the group's overall strategy up to 2000. With former stock exchange chairman and group non-executive director Charles Lee Yeh-kwong at his side, Mr Wu went through his project thinking and planning in a lot more detail than at previous press gatherings. It was a welcome change. There were numerous protestations through his briefing to the effect that bankruptcy, group liquidation and the knocking of bailiffs or administrators on his door was not in prospect. Not now, and not in the near future. Power station Pagbilao in the Philippines, the super highway in Guangzhou, the expressway in Bangkok and future projects in Pakistan along with Indonesia were all under the micros-cope. The press was told Hongkong Bank was in the picture. The credit-lines were good. Lunch with the bank was still a civil affair; it had to be as he ate with John Gray, Hongkong Bank chief, on Tuesday and Sir William Purves, HSBC Holdings chief, yesterday. Hey, don't worry about debt. Debt is good, Mr Wu said. By the end of the year he will have $9.5 billion of it pledged against an estimated $18 billion to $20 billion of assets. At this level he will have almost run out of assets on which to pledge. It therefore came as no big surprise then, when Mr Wu candidly brought into conversation assets sales of up to 30 per cent of the Guangzhou Superhighway and 25 per cent of the Bangkok Expressway, which has yet to get any final government approval, by the way. If completed this would raise something like $9 billion to pay off his debt. Apparently potential buyers are already falling over themselves to knock on his door to get a slice of what is up for sale. Wednesday's Mr Wu was a rather different Mr Wu from the one Hong Kong's fickle media has grown used to. Wu the superman had been humbled and his vision had been drained by apparent delays in project completions and tight financing. Plans to create an assembly line system for building new power stations in China, for instance, are now gathering dust. Consolidated Electric Power Asia was touted as a China play in its listing in 1993. It is still building power stations but after Shajiao C none are contracted for in China before 2000. In contrast to previous and normally impromptu press briefings, Mr Wu actually told reporters he would never bite off more than he could chew. He never once mentioned building the tallest tower in Hong Kong or the Macau link once. Mr Wu physically and financial cannot take on any more; its official. The humbling of Mr Wu is now reflected in the share prices of his main listings. Hopewell is off 33 per cent and Cepa is down 22 per. Analysts remain worried about Hopewell's prospects and now wait on Mr Wu to deliver on his promise to sell assets and pay down debt. Cepa is a different story. While 1996 could be a bit rocky, in financial year 1997 earnings from projects are set to flow strongly. Patient investors are being advised to buy Cepa on any further share price weakness from present levels ahead of good times in 1997. Mr Wu wants to get to heaven. In an explanation of project finance principles, Mr Wu said the project originator first puts up some cash. Then The Angel Gabriel, he says, comes along to finance the rest of the project in the form of banks providing debt finance. With his and the bank's money Mr Wu can then begin to build and make it to St Peter's Gate. This represents the completion of the project and the beginning of project income flow. Once through this gate there is a period of paying off the banks. At the end of this pay-back period Seventh Heaven is reached as cash distribution to Mr Wu, and presumably his share_holders, triggers a huge surge in profits which can last decades. Mr Wu said this was not his idea. The late Sir Y.K. Pao used the same principles and methodology to build up his massive shipping fleet and wealth. The problem now for Mr Wu is how long will he remain knocking on Heaven's Door?